Theresa May has tried to revive stalled Brexit talks with Labour amid reports that she is willing to include a “future proof” commitment to Britain staying in a customs union as a way of brokering a deal.
Mrs May insisted that there was common ground between the two parties and that she was determined to get a cross-party agreement soon. She said a long delay could mean that Brexit could “slip through our fingers”.
Downing Street declined to comment on reports that Mrs May was willing to include an aspiration to some form of customs union with the EU as a way of reviving talks with Labour, which stalled on Friday.
The Sunday Times reported that Mrs May could legislate to make it harder for her successor as prime minister — potentially a Eurosceptic such as Boris Johnson — to rip up any agreement.
One option would be to put a legislative “lock” on the commitment to a customs union in the Withdrawal Agreement bill, the law which would put Brexit on to the statute book.
Many Tory MPs strongly oppose Britain remaining in a customs union, claiming it would undermine their hopes of the UK having an independent trade policy after Brexit.
As a result, negotiating teams from the Tories and Labour are trying to find ways to include a customs union in any final deal, without actually calling it that. The Mail on Sunday said both sides were looking at “nod and a wink” wording.
Philip Hammond, chancellor, said on Saturday that the government no longer had any “red lines”, further inflaming fears among Eurosceptic Tories of an impending deal with Labour.
Mrs May defended her approach, which comes ahead of a summit in Brussels on Wednesday where she will seek a further delay to Britain’s exit date until the end of June.
Referring to her original Brexit deal, she said: “I did everything in my power to persuade the Conservative and DUP MPs who form the Government’s majority to back that deal — including securing legally-binding changes to address MPs’ concerns with it.
“But that deal was rejected three times by Parliament and there is no sign it can be passed in the near future. So I had to take a new approach.”
Mrs May added in a statement, released by Downing Street on Saturday night: “The fact is that on Brexit there are areas where the two main parties agree: we both want to end free movement, we both want to leave with a good deal, and we both want to protect jobs.
“The longer this takes, the greater the risk of the UK never leaving at all. It would mean letting the Brexit the British people voted for slip through our fingers. I will not stand for that. It is essential we deliver what people voted for and to do that we need to get a deal over the line.
“To achieve this I will go to Brussels this week to seek a short extension to Article 50. My intention is to reach an agreement with my fellow EU leaders that will mean if we can agree a deal here at home we can leave the EU in just six weeks.”